Some 27 Members of European Union Parliament are currently on a visit to Kashmir on a supposedly 'private' visit. There, the visiting delegation have started giving anti-Pakistan and pro-Indian government statements to the media, though they are speaking less on the ground situation in Kashmir.
This visit also marks a major shift in the Indian government's stated policy so far; that Kashmir is an internal matter of India and any conflict of interest or action with Pakistan has to be solved bilaterally in accordance with the Simla Agreement. Hence the visit, which included a meeting with the Prime Minister and National Security Adviser, raises questions.
First, if elected MPs from Europe can be allowed to go on a “Kashmir tour”, why are elected representatives of India—either as an all-party delegation or as an Opposition delegation—still not being allowed to visit Kashmir and talk to their countrymen? If Kashmir is “normal”, as the government states, and there is no security threat for the European MPs, how is the situation not normal and full of threats for Indian MPs?
Does denying Indian parliamentarians their legitimate right to visit a part of India while allowing foreign MPs the same a sort of contempt of Parliament? CPI(M) leader and former MP Sitaram Yechury had to take the Supreme Court route to be permitted to visit Kashmir and meet his ailing party colleague and former CPI(M) MLA in Kashmir, Yousuf Tarigami.
Second, if we are allowing European MPs a 'private' visit to Kashmir, can we then stop the visit of an official delegation of UN Human Rights Commission, which has already expressed desire to visit Kashmir? And is it not a dampener that the EU Embassy in Delhi has called this visit not a EU-sanctioned visit, but something done by the MPs in their private capacity? Is not the EU, in this way, keeping a distance from the visit?
Three, we find two organisations names come up among the invitees to Kashmir: International Institute of Non-aligned Studies, which is inactive for all practical purposes since 1998; and second, the Women's Economic and Social Think Tank, whose website does not give any references to their past work though it promises many things for women in future.
The WESTT official who sent invitations to the MPs is Madi Sharma who describes herself on Twitter as a business and investment broker. So, has the Indian government given a mandate of scripted PR to a little-known organisation and a business broker to ameliorate its global image? To say that this is undermining India’s status is an understatement. Madi’s invitation email to MPs promises a “VIP meet with the Indian PM and a tour of Kashmir.” To presume that huge money has been spent on this will be completely natural. These are probably government funds and maybe even call for a Lokpal investigation.
Four, one of the original invitees, Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MP from North West England, said that he was invited on October 7 and it was withdrawn on October 10, when his liberal credentials were known and when he asked to be allowed to meet and talk to ordinary Kashmiris directly. That shows the visit is selective and merely a PR exercise, though government and media in India initially tried giving it as EU delegation, which it is not.
Five, 23 out of the 27 MPs visiting India are from the extreme Right wing parties of France’s Le Penn, the ruling Polish anti-immigration Right wing party, and the Brexit Party of the United Kingdom, among others. Interestingly, these 23 MPs have gone to Kashmir while the other four mysteriously chose not to.
The Indian Express has reported the background of all of these MPs, and the team includes two pro-Nazi MPs who had been earlier removed from various EU bodies for their extremist and/or anti-immigrant views. Almost the entire team (except four) are known Muslim-baiters. That explains their selection.
Six, by not allowing our own MPs, many foreign journalists and liberal political leaders from other nations, but allowing hand-picked EU MPs for a private tour to Kashmir, have not the arguments of internal matter, bilateral issue with Pakistan, security threat, “all is normal”, scripted PR etc gone wrong or been compromised in one fell swoop? India needs to think deeper on this.
Seven, is not this trip to Kashmir a desperate attempt by the Indian government to counter some 40 damning reports on the ground situation in Kashmir published in The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, Time, Economist, and so on. Can a restricted and scripted PR exercise, supervised by the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, create a counter-narrative? We will know what real impact this visit will have in just a few days.
Eight, is it not that this is a desperate attempt by the Indian government to counter several critical observations by top leaders of various global organisations? The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutteres has criticised and expressed concern over “restrictions in India-administered Kashmir as it remains under an unprecedented security lockdown and near total communication blackout.”
The United States presidential-hopeful Bernie Sanders and British leader of Opposition Jeremy Corbyn have scathingly criticised “violation of human rights of the Kashmiri people by India”. The chief of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called for “an end to lockdowns and communication blockages” and also criticised the Indian judiciary for being slow in dealing with the Kashmir petitions. In an joint statement, Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Eliot L Engel, both in foreign affairs committees of US Congress, have called for “transparency and political participation in Kashmir”.
Nine, interestingly, sections of the ruling party are not happy with this sudden visit of the EU MPs. The usual cheerleaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are silent. Significantly, BJP MP Subramaniam Swamy has called this unwanted visit as “perversion of national policy and grossly immoral”.
Finally, the visit has not been without incident. Four MPs chose not to go to Kashmir even after coming to Delhi. Stone-pelting has been resorted to by Kashmiris in at least 40 places on the day of their visit. Leaders of Opposition parties in Kashmir (and rest of India) have criticised a pleasure trip of European MPs without getting into the issues and without talking to people.
A hurriedly organised and ill-advised trip without taking broader implications into consideration in this sensitive issue has shown Indian government to be futile and bereft of diplomatic vision to counter the groundswell of criticism across the world of some 4,000 Kashmiris, including 350 political leaders and even children, being detained. Curtailment of their liberty, healthcare needs, education facilities, economically-productive engagements etc, have all been criticised heavily.
The author is Pro Vice Chancellor of Kolkata-based Adamas University. The views are personal.